Social Media Marketing for Events: 10 Principles

(für deutsche Version hier klicken)

Organizing conferences, exhibitions, trade shows and other events, there is no doubt that you need to have a social media strategy in place.

Of course, it depends on the industry you are servicing with your events, but this just determines the amount of social media activities you should be doing, or the resources you should invest – it does not affect the general necessity to become active on social networks.

Your potential customers will be there, and an organizer ought to be there, too. And when done right, social media event marketing is more effective than classic advertising, because it allows audience feedback, you can track your success and reach out to target groups that you can hardly reach via classic advertising.

When you start thinking about social media on a more strategic level, there are a number of basic principles that an event organizer should bear in mind. Check out this list of 10 basic guidelines for social media event marketing.

  1. Social Media are not a classic marketing tool. If you see social networks as just another communication channel for your marketing messages, you will fail. Social media are for communication, for dialogue, not for single-sided monologue. Connecting with someone via social media is like being invited to their home, and that’s how you should see it.
  2. Listen actively to your customers. Try to figure out how your target audience are using social media. What are they talking about? What are hot topics, what are trends? Where do those discussions take place? What can you learn from those conversations for your event programming? Who are the influencers, and how can you get them to “like” your events? Maybe ask them to moderate a session? Even if you are reluctant to start a big social media campaign in a pro-active way, monitoring social media and listening to your audience is a good way to start.
  3. Think before you take action. Do not over-react even when you come across criticism towards your event. Act professionally and try to be as objective as possible. Don’t act like a know-it-all, this can backfire. Respond with patience, and take criticism seriously.
  4. Focus on the user benefit. Give your audience a good reason to “like” you on Facebook, follow you on Twitter or join your LinkedIn or XING group. What’s in it for them? Networking with peers that attend the same event? Exchange and discussions with the speakers? A monetary benefit? Relevant information about the industry? Communicate this user benefit and always bear it in mind when you operate on your social channels.
  5. Be fast and relevant. Monitor what is said about your conference or trade show, and respond quickly. Do not post irrelevant content, rather focus on what is needed in that moment. A good example was the recent gamescom trade show in Cologne, where social media channels were used in a sort of “emergency” situation. The halls were over-crowded, and the gates had to be closed. Dialogue with the thousands of gamers that wanted to get in happened primarily on Facebook and Twitter. Read my blog post about that event (in German language, though).
  6. Learn from the positive (and negative!) examples of others. Social media are transparent, and you can follow what your competitors are doing, what works and what doesn’t. Join in the LinkedIn groups of your competing conferences and trade shows, like them on Facebook and follow their Twitter stream. There is so much you can learn from those examples. This will help you differentiate.
  7. Give your audience a voice. Encourage them to use your platforms to network, contribute their own views, make suggestions for conference programming. Facilitate this exchange, by communicating an event #hashtag for Twitter, by starting discussions on your Facebook page, or by including polls on your blog.
  8. Don’t spam. Develop a good content strategy and an editorial plan, so that you won’t repeat the same content all over again. A conference or a trade show are great sources for good content: Speakers, their topics, new products, exhibitors and product segments, side programs, social events… Plenty of great content, no need to post the same stuff all over again.
  9. Be authentic. The best person to tweet, post, report about your event on social channels is the project manager! Of course, you can outsource several tasks, like the creation of FB pages, set-up of a blog, video editing etc, but the most authentic content will come from the people that are closest to the conference or event. Work out social media guidelines to give your employees the necessary background so they know how to be active on social media, and invest in training.
  10. Cross-communication works best. Refer to your social channels in your classic advertising (brochures, website, posters etc.). Integrated crossmedia campaigns increase sales significantly. When your social media goal is to intensify the dialogue with your customers and expand your reach, then it is advisable to cross-reference your social media activities with your classic campaign. Your social channels should not be silos, but integrated in your communication strategy.

Those principles are a good foundation for your social media event strategy. A social media strategy should answer the 4 strategic questions as formulated in the POST framework (by Charlene Li and Josh Bernoff):

  • People: Who are you targeting? How do your target audiences use social media?
  • Objectives: What are the targets of your social media activities?
  • Strategy: Define the content strategy, editorial plan, user benefits
  • Technology: Which networks and tools can you use to reach your audience and your targets?

Technology comes last in this framework. If you want to find out more, I can recommend the work from Bernoff/Li.

For my German speaking readers, there is a great book called Follow Me!, which gives a good overview on social media marketing. The principles above have also been inspired by this book, and they correspond largely with my personal experience with social media marketing as an event organizer.

6 thoughts on “Social Media Marketing for Events: 10 Principles

  1. Great stuff Michael.

    I am finding that some organisers and organisations are making decisions in the dark. We need more overviews like this just to get them thinking about it. I will tell you my email analogy I’ve been using to encourage them to embrace social media.

    I will post some advice for organisers too, some things for them to use to encourage engagement from speakers, delegates, exhibitors and sponsors.


    1. Thanks, William! Although I didn’t see you in the audience during Event Camp EU (I was taking part online), I recognized your Scottish accent 😉 How did you like the event? I couldn’t focus on it as much as I would have loved to – however, there were quite a number of learnings particularly for social media engagement. Liked Miguels’ presentation.


  2. Great post. I always like that you use Social Media as a plural!

    I think the key is the “what’s in it for me” question and the answer that events come up with. With every event engaging soon it wont be enough simply to do that, but what value are you adding through your SM campaign for the attendee?

    Big questions.


  3. All of your 10 principles are great, especially the 6th point which is on Learning from the positive and negative examples of others. Definitely, we should follow our competitors and learn from them which will help us in a successful event marketing.


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